Brits are more anxious than ever, with the coronavirus pandemic causing concerns for safety and halting life as we know it. For most people, anxiety comes and goes in waves. So what is the definition of anxiety, and how do you treat it? Express.co.uk spoke to nutritionist and Linwoods Health Foods ambassador Jenna Hope (@jennahopenutrition) to find out what foods reduce feelings of anxiety.
Jenna said: “With ongoing lockdown uncertainty, the current landscape can understandably lead to feelings of anxiety amongst many.
“I have seen a rise in emotional eating and increased grazing which can have a big impact on our mood and anxiety levels.
“It is important to maintain a good diet and ensure the food you eat has a positive impact on your mental health rather than negative.
“This includes reducing sugar consumption, opting for snacks which are high in protein and healthy fats, as well as the key nutrients that will nourish the mind and body.”
What is anxiety?
According to Anxiety UK, Anxiety is a normal response to stress or danger and is often called the ‘flight or fight’ response.
This process involves adrenalin being quickly pumped through the body enabling it to cope with whatever catastrophe may come it’s way.
The problems arise when this response is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or indeed is generated when there is no danger present.
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Anxiety has physical and psychological symptoms.
The physical symptoms include:
• Racing heartbeat
• Shortness of breath
• Chest tightness
• Dry mouth
• Butterflies in stomach
• Urge to pass urine/empty bowels
• Pins and needles
The psychological symptoms of anxiety are:
• Inner tension
• Fear of losing control
• Dread that something catastrophic is going to happen (such as blackout, seizure, heart attack or death)
• Feelings of detachment
What causes anxiety?
There are many factors that can trigger an anxiety disorder. They include:
• Physical factors (e.g. thyroid problems)
• Childhood environment
• Genetic predispositions
• Biochemical imbalances (changes in the levels of chemical messengers in the brain)
Knowing the origins of an anxiety disorder doesn’t help in dealing with the day to day problems that arise as a result of the disorder but it can be reassuring for sufferers to know that there are factors out of their control that may have contributed to their present predicament.
You may not actually have anxiety. What you are experiencing during the pandemic could be panic.
Anxiety UK says: “Panic is a sudden intense response to normal thoughts or sensations.
“This is often accompanied with a feeling of impending doom, and physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, palpitations, pins and needles.
“Anxiety is more of a psychological condition, prolonged by thought processes and rituals which cause the person affected to avoid certain situations which, they believe, will exacerbate their anxiety, and this avoidance behaviour then affects their quality of their life.”
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How to combat anxiety
The Anxiety UK website points out that anxiety is a normal emotion and those experiencing it should not look to ‘cure’ it.
The charity adds: “There are many occasions where anxiety is helpful and useful.
“Lots of factors can help you to control your feelings of anxiety, a combination of therapy, medication and self-help strategies can help anybody affected by anxiety overcome their disorder and reach a point where they control their anxiety rather than the anxiety controlling them and affecting their quality of life.
“Many people who contact Anxiety UK are hoping to be told of a revolutionary medication or quick fix therapy technique that will rid them of their anxiety overnight.
“No such treatment exists, and it is often this realisation, that the answer of recovery lies within oneself, that starts people off on that road to recovery.”
Does your diet affect anxiety?
Many people do not eat properly when they experience anxiety.
NoPanic.org explains this may be down to their symptoms, a feeling of nausea, or because of the effects of drugs.
The charity’s site explains: “Some people comfort eats with a lot of sugary snacks.
“When we are anxious it may feel like we have no energy. This is because when anxious our body has to work extremely hard so we need to provide as much energy as we can; we do this by the food we eat.
“It is commonly known that a poor diet can lead to, or increase anxiety symptoms.
“These may include light-headedness, headaches, digestive problems, faintness, jelly legs, headaches and feeling panicky. These are often related to low blood pressure.
“We can perhaps recognize that feeling before we have a panic attack and we have the urge to eat something sweet. What the body is trying to tell us is that our blood sugar levels have fallen.
“Eating little and often will help us with anxiety by keeping our blood sugar levels constant throughout the day.”
Jenna explained which foods and substances to stick to, and which to avoid.
Swap your coffee for green tea
She said: “Excess coffee consumption can lead to peaks and crashes in energy which can heighten anxiety in those susceptible.
“Swapping your coffee for green tea may help to alleviate caffeine heightened anxiety.
“Green tea contains a compound called L-theanine slows the release of caffeine meaning you don’t experience such a peak and crash.
“L-theanine also stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called GABA which helps you to feel calm and relaxed.
“Alternatively, opt for herbal teas to limit caffeine if you are particularly caffeine sensitive.”
Ensure adequate omega-3 intake
Jenna explained research has found low levels of omega-3 in some individuals who are susceptible to anxiety.
She said: “Omega-3 may help to alleviate anxiety-symptoms by reducing inflammation in the brain. “Oily fish, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds are all great sources of omega-3.
“Try adding 2tbsp of Linwoods Milled Flaxseed or Milled Chia Seeds to your porridge or yoghurt in the morning.”
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Eat Tryptophan rich foods
Never heard of Tryptophan? It’s time to become acquainted if you want to beat your anxiety.
Jenna said: “Tryptophan is an amino acid which plays an important role in producing the happy hormone, Serotonin.
“Low levels of tryptophan can contribute to low mood and anxiety symptoms.
“Ensure you are incorporating foods rich in tryptophan into your diet e.g. oats, turkey, spinach, nuts and tofu.”
Eat your greens
A lack of green veggies may be contributing towards feelings of anxiety.
Jenna said: “Green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach are rich in magnesium.
“Magnesium plays an important role in muscle and nerve relaxation.
“Anxiety symptoms can often generate tension within the muscles therefore, consuming foods rich in magnesium can help to limit this.
“Other foods rich in magnesium include: nuts, seeds, figs, avocados and salmon.”
Limit your alcohol intake
We all feel a little more anxious the day after a heavy night of drinking.
This is to do with fluctuation in your blood alcohol concentration.
Jenna explained: “Alcohol causes spikes and crashes in blood alcohol concentration.
“These peaks and crashes can leave those susceptible feeling more anxious.
“Alcohol consumption can also contribute to lower levels of the happy hormone, Serotonin.
“Try alcohol-free spirits with lime and sparkling water or tonic as an alternative to your G&T.
“Kombucha (a fermented tea drink) also makes for a delicious alcohol-free alternative.”
Supplement with Vitamin D
Get out in the sunshine as much as you can because that will also calm you down.
However, due to lockdown restrictions, this may not be possible. Instead, you might need to take supplements.
Jenna said: “Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with low mood and anxiety symptoms.
“Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin as it is mainly obtained through sun exposure.
“Government guidelines suggest that the UK population should be supplementing with 10ug per day between October and April.
“Although, due to the current lockdown situation many people are not able to get outside daily and therefore current recommendations are to continue supplementing throughout lockdown.
For example, one serving (30g) of Linwoods Flaxseed with Bio Cultures & Vitamin D contains 100% of your recommended daily amount of the vitamin.”
Limit high sugar consumption
Aim to consume less than 30g of sugar a day, Jenna advised.
She explained: “High intakes of sugar causes peaks and crashes in blood sugar levels.
“It is the spikes and crashes in this blood sugar rollercoaster which can contribute to anxiety symptoms.
“Ensure that your snacks are packed with protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats to help maintain balanced blood sugar levels.
“Well balanced snacks include: oat cakes with cream cheese or peanut butter, ½ a banana with Greek yoghurt and a topping of mixed nuts and seeds, hummus and carrots, boiled eggs, or a handful of almonds or walnuts.”
Eat your yoghurt
Yoghurt is a source of probiotics, Jenna said.
She said: “Probiotics are good bacteria which helps to support a healthy gut profile.
“Recently, research has highlighted the relationship between the gut and the brain.
“A poor gut bacteria profile has been associated with an increase risk in anxiety and low mood. “Incorporating probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink), pickled vegetables and miso are a few great ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet. “
Eat a rainbow
You are what you eat, they say. Do you find yourself looking down at your plate only to find a sea of beige? This could be making your anxiety worse.
Jenna suggested: “Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables is essential to ensure that you are getting enough plant chemicals, antioxidants and nutrient variety.
“Consuming a wide variety of foods will help to prevent deficiencies and leave you feeling energised.”
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